Arts It’s an Oldenburg!
When the Seattle Art Museum announced its intention to build a sculpture park, the first name that came to the minds of plenty of people was: Claes Oldenburg. The pop artist, born in 1929, lives and works in New York with his wife, Coosje van Bruggen, and the two of them have been making “colossal monuments” of everyday objects together since the 1970s. Oldenburg’s 1969 Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks” is an icon of pop art and just a damn fine sculpture, and his 1976 Clothespin in downtown Philadelphia was the first of his monuments to find a place in an urban setting.
According to their web site, Oldenberg and van Bruggen have more than 40 giant sculptures around the world: shuttlecocks, a half-buried bike, a screw bent into an arch shape, a spoon with a cherry (that happens to be a fountain) perched on it.
Typewriter Eraser, Scale X (1998-‘99) is one of these: it has been jutting up from the lawn of the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden since 1999. According to the provenance label on the national gallery’s web site, the piece was fabricated for the NGA through PaceWildenstein in 1999.
Except that Oldenburg evidently actually made three of these 19-foot-tall typewriter erasers, and now one of them—the largest by a hair according to measurements provided by Seattle Art Museum and the NGA—will be installed for at least three years at the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, thanks to a loan from Paul Allen. (He is coming out of the woodwork with art this year.)
Yay! Oldenburg is incredible, and this means that we got our pop star and our public sculpture hero. And Typewriter Eraser, Scale X is a good piece—not the pair’s absolute best, but solid.
Below is the Typewriter Eraser that will be installed in late September in Seattle, followed by the NGA’s Typewriter Eraser.
Still, should I ignore my nagging feeling of disappointment that the Olympic Sculpture Park will have basically exactly the same sculpture as the NGA, and one that has gained its national visibility from having sat there for seven years? (The third iteration is still at PaceWildenstein, according to the SAM spokeswoman who sent out the press release today). Oldenburg and van Bruggen aren’t site-specific artists, necessarily—their universal Euro-American pop works are highly transferable. And commissions are exciting, but they can be a letdown, and the past few years have been uneven for Oldenburg and van Bruggen. This way, we get a tried-and-true quantity, I suppose.
Except that Oldenburg did once propose a civic monument for Seattle: a giant cathedral in the shape of a colossal faucet with a windmill-style hand-crank set on the edge of, and pouring water into, Lake Union. He made this suggestion in a 29-by-22-inch 1972 work on paper made in watercolor, graphite, colored pencil, and crayon.
Now that is what I wish we could see built on the edge of Elliott Bay.